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Southern California Job Market : A Special Report On Employment Trends : Industries & Occupations : Banking : Technology Creates Need For Versatility

September 20, 1987|DOUGLAS FRANTZ | Times Staff Writer

After decades of being virtually somnambulant, the banking industry is waking up. As a result, the potential for creative, interesting jobs may be brighter than ever.

The twin forces that are driving the industry to shed its sedentary ways are deregulation and technology. Those same forces are creating a strong need for a new type of bank employee, one who is more adept at communication, unafraid of technology and sales-oriented, according to industry experts.

"Banking has moved from the stodgy, once conservative, goose-stepped environment to one that is dynamic and changing, with so many opportunities available that an employee has the ability to choose the job or career path that is right for them," said Stephen A. Enna, senior vice president and personnel director for Wells Fargo & Co. in San Francisco.

Enna's evaluation of the banking field, which was echoed by executives at other California banks, reflects similar changes that are sweeping other financial-service industries.

Accountants are no longer relegated to simply performing audit after audit. Instead, they may find themselves analyzing the fine points of a merger proposal or doing a sophisticated diagnosis of a company's financial health. An investment banker may find that his or her duties extend beyond the next merger or leveraged buyout to sophisticated restructuring of entire conglomerates.

Statistics from the Labor Department show that jobs in the financial field are growing at a steady rate. For instance, the financial category added 109,000 jobs nationwide in the first quarter of 1987, according to the Labor Department, surpassed only by the business and retail trade categories.

In California, the growth in financial services jobs should be strong well into the next decade as a result of the emergence of Los Angeles as a gateway to the Pacific Basin and the opening of the state to full interstate banking in 1991, which will allow the big New York banks to open their first complete offices here.

"For California people, the prognosis for a healthy job scene in banking and similar fields looks good," said James McN. Stansill, a professor of finance at the University of Southern California. "The big Eastern banks will be moving out here, and they're not stupid. They are going to try to hire some people with local contacts."

In addition to the influx of out of state banks, California financial institutions--both banks and savings and loans--are already working to strengthen their operations here in preparation for the competition. While that does not mean dramatic growth and thousands of new jobs, it does mean that these institutions are looking for more flexible employees.

Enna described the type of person Wells Fargo, and most other banks, big and small, are looking for in new hires:

"For the first time, as a result of deregulation, banks are having to compete. Therefore, the skill base we are developing in employees is one in which somebody is capable of selling a product on the open market. We are looking for people with specialized skills or people who have great sales skills or potential in order to sell a product in the retail market."

In fact, specialized skills are more important than ever, because automation has replaced thousands of bank employees who did the traditional back-office, clerical work now accomplished by machines. Entry-level jobs still remain, of course, but even today's teller may be expected to be more than someone who simply cashes checks and handles deposits.

The ideal bank employee is able to communicate, both orally and in writing, and is comfortable with that new technology, ranging from computers to automated teller machines. The ideal employee is likely to view the bank as a retail outlet, with an emphasis of selling its products to the consumer.

Whether the prospective employee has a doctorate in international economics or a high school degree, Enna said that there is a premium on flexibility.

"Banking doesn't lend itself to a bunch of stereotyped people anymore," he said.

In return for that flexibility, banks are willing to pay better, although the compensation may not be in traditional terms of a set base salary. More and more banks today are pegging total pay to a smaller base salary that is augmented through bonus incentives based on performance. It means that more money is available to those who are willing and able to do the job, and those who can't are destined to earn less and probably be forced out of their job.

"The traditional feeling about banks was that the jobs were low-pay but very secure," Enna said. "Banks now need to do whatever is necessary to compete, and more and more of that involves emphasizing flexible compensation plans rather than just base pay."

Jerry L. Bowman, a senior vice president at Bank of America, said a sales mentality is no longer merely optional behavior for bankers in the era of stiff competition that deregulation has brought.

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